Iowa’s perennially sold-out high school wrestling tournament will pack in even more fans next year.That’s the assessment after the state dual tournament was switched from its home in Cedar Rapids to join the individual meet at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines.
The Iowa High School Athletic Association’s board of control voted unanimously on Wednesday to uproot the team tournament from the U.S. Cellular Center — where it has been held since 1994 — to give participants and fans a one-venue, one-city arrangement.
“We already have the greatest wrestling tournament in the country,” IHSAA executive director Rick Wulkow told the board. “This is going to make it an even bigger, grander event.”
Sweeping changes to the postseason structure were made to the sport, which has averaged more than 78,000 fans at Wells Fargo.
The new format will allow all dual teams to compete in three matches on Feb. 15. Teams will determine placewinners from first to eighth; in the past, only the semifinalists wrestled three matches.
The individual meet will be compressed from four days to three, from Feb. 16-18. The number of sessions will be trimmed from 10 to eight. Officials estimated that fewer tickets will be sold for next year’s tournament, but the addition of the dual meet will compensate for that.
The dual tournament has averaged 4,000 fans for quarterfinals and 2,200 for the finals over the past five years.
“I think our dual team attendance will go way up,” meet director Alan Beste told the board.
The move will cost Cedar Rapids an average of $379,000 in visitor spending, according to Mary Lee Malmberg, director of sports tourism for the Cedar Rapids Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.
“We’ll just have to find a way to recoup,” Malmberg said. “It’s something that’s good for the kids and good for the sport, and how can you compete with that?”
Renovations at the U.S. Cellular Center would have prevented the dual meet from being held in 2012. Beste said that was not a key factor in the board’s decision.
“This change is not because Cedar Rapids does not host in 2012,” Beste said. “This just happens to be the right time to do this.”
Wells Fargo allows room for eight mats on the arena floor, which will expand the dual meet. The U.S. Cellular Center could accommodate six mats.
The individual tournament, which grew from three days to four in 2003, has had sold-out state finals for 22 years. The record attendance at the four-day meet was 92,528 in 2006.
Beste projected the new eight-session individual meet attendance at 74,635 for next year. That’s down 3,724 from this year’s gate, but the dual-meet attendance would bolster the overall total.